In a fortuitous confluence of events, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case in which Shelby County in Alabama is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act just days before the anniversary of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March.
The march leaders included Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, who was almost beaten to death for his participation in peaceful demonstrations. He remains a living example of what the struggle was all about.
It is true, as Shelby County officials – and, apparently, some justices – believe, that a law can outlive its usefulness. But this latest assault on the right to vote comes, ironically, just months after some Americans had to wait in line for up 10 hours in some places to exercise this most basic democratic right.
Republican-controlled legislatures have sought to discourage African Americans and others from being able to elect the government of their choice by shortening the voting time, imposing almost impossible identification requirements and gerrymandering electoral boundaries.
Florida is a prime example of this gross abuse of power being used to influence the outcome of balloting. Republicans in the Legislature and the Republican governor shortened the early-voting period. They also crafted a list of referendum questions lengthy enough to guarantee frustration at the ballot box.
The obvious goal of such chicanery was to prevent the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires federal approval of any changes to the voting procedures of designated states and parts of states with a history of preventing African Americans from voting. It has been reaffirmed by Congress through the years, including as recently as 2006.
Yet, in a classic example of race-baiting, Justice Antonin Scalia, during the hearing on Feb. 27, chose to describe it a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” He and other opponents of the measure know that it allows the covered jurisdictions to get out of federal supervision simply by showing their elections were clean for 10 consecutive years.
In taking their case to the high court, Shelby County officials merely wanted to give Scalia and other right-wing justices an opportunity to score yet another ideological victory.
A democratic government should be about the business of making it as easy as possible for as many citizens as possible to vote. That is where the focus should be, not to erect barriers to such participation.